Virtual Mentoring

Harnessing the power of technology to connect college and career ready leaders.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matthew Olson

CREDIT Matthew Olson PhD Putnam County FL with UNF.pngWelcome to CAMP! Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program, or CAMP Osprey, is a mutually beneficial leadership-development program where collegiate students from the University of North Florida serve as mentors to elementary and middle school students. To overcome the scarcity of available mentors, geographic isolation, and financial barriers faced by our high-poverty, urban, and rural partners throughout the Southeast, CAMP Osprey harnesses the use of videoconferencing to conduct weekly virtual leadership mentoring sessions.

The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors.

The success of the program is grounded in the implementation of a core leadership curriculum, preparation in the use of videoconferencing technology, adaptation of the mentoring sessions to create an engaging virtual learning environment, and leadership training that mentors and mentees complete collaboratively; solving problems, practicing effective time management and fostering college and career readiness skills. Students also use the weekly virtual mentoring sessions to role-play leadership “soft-skills” including a proper handshake, public speaking, and working with others. In addition, the students use mobile technology to conduct virtual campus visits to college classroom lectures, science lab demonstrations, athletic events, and collegiate student musical performances.

This model is based on the previous initiative at the University of Florida (CAMP Gator), where mentors conducted virtual leadership mentoring sessions with more than 500 students in three states. Participants in both programs experienced increased academic achievement, increased attendance, decreased school suspensions and an increased awareness of diverse communities and cultures.

Benefits for the K-12 Schools

Through the use of videoconferencing technologies, this virtual mentoring program brings the benefits of mentoring to schools and communities that would otherwise not be able to participate due to their geographical locations. One such school is Mellon Elementary, located in rural Putnam County (FL). The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors and learn the essential skills to become college ready. Principal Joseph Theobold recognized the benefits of the program by stating that the virtual mentoring provides extra focus and effort that can be beneficial to their students enabling them to succeed as they continue through school. He also noted that opportunities like this don’t come along very often in poor, rural districts like Putnam County. and we are so thankful to be able to participate in an enriching program like CAMP Osprey.”

At Oakwood Elementary in Gainesville (GA), Principal Shane Rayburn explained, “Having support and guidance from someone that is outside of the teacher, parent, principal (role) who you think genuinely cares about you – that’s vital to the success of our students.”

Julie R. Alm, Principal of Aventura City of Excellence School located just outside of Miami, attested to the value of involvement with the CAMP Osprey program. She stated, “Our partnership with the University of North Florida has allowed us to offer our students opportunities to receive mentorship from college students. The program is enabling us to support our boys as they hone their leadership skills to positively impact their lives and the lives of their classmates. Students have expressed their pride in knowing that the college mentors are vested in their success.”

Technology: Connecting the University to New Communities

Without the use of virtual mentoring and the adaptation of traditional face-to-face sessions, the University of North Florida would not be able to make these positive connections and impact these partner schools miles away from campus. Technology has brought trained mentors, an innovative college campus and a comprehensive leadership curriculum to these partner schools. In turn, this initiative increases exposure and awareness of the academic programs offered at the University of North Florida, reaching populations that are often underrepresented at the postsecondary level.

Future growth includes the expansion of K-20 virtual mentoring programs to schools throughout the nation and even internationally, in places such as St. Kitts and Belize. Program expansion incorporates the collection and dissemination of research to spotlight the mutually beneficial outcomes for both mentor and mentee. Then, a best practices guide is in development to expand the virtual mentoring model to include strategies that go beyond the field of education towards a universal virtual mentoring framework. Imagine the possibilities that come from the use of virtual mentoring- overcoming barriers of cost, distance, and time. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an educational mentoring network that will connect university faculty and students with K-12 teachers and students to positively impact learning and leadership development.

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Matthew Ohlson, PhD, is a 2017 EdTech Awards honoree and part of the Taylor Leadership Institute, College of Education and Human Services at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Write to: matthew.ohlson@unf.edu

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